Skinner Library in transition

It could be said that Frances Skinner Willing was the Andrew Carnegie of Manchester. In the age where Carnegie financed the construction of over 2,500 public libraries worldwide, Willing shared his view of a library as a vital community institution when she made a gift to Manchester to build the Mark Skinner Library, in memory of her distinguished father and honoring his love of education and literature.

The library opened in Manchester Village in 1897, and over the years the library has performed its expected role of the times, beginning with stern librarians retrieving books from balcony stacks to self-service stacks where patrons could browse the shelves and choose for themselves what they wanted to read, to today's knowledgeable and helpful library staff able to assist users in a myriad of ways.

In 1964, a second female philanthropist, Sarah Larson, brought the library into the 20th century, providing an addition that doubled library space and expanded opportunities for programming and services.

Now, the library is prepared to make even greater contributions to the community with the construction of the Manchester Community Library, centrally located and carefully designed from the inside out. To many, this is a bittersweet yet necessary step as libraries around the world transition from halls of books to hubs of knowledge, from passive and transactional to active and transformational, and from quiet sanctuaries to vibrant gathering places.

"The current building has become a barrier to our success and we face the challenges of trying to expand and thrive in a building that is past its useful life," said Executive Director, Betsy Bleakie.

Additionally, Bleakie said the library has had to address questions posed to them by the public such as "Who needs a library today?" and "Why move?"

"We, along with libraries around the world, are being used more than ever before," said Bleakie. "Our current building simply lacks the space and functionality required to serve the needs of a community of our size and vitality."

In 2006, after extensive input from the community, the board of trustees approved the long-range action steps required to attain Manchester's vision of a premier 21st-century library, one that meets the needs of both current and future patrons while serving as a center of community activity. This vision included a first-rate facility, expanded programming and services, and enhanced technology.

The options explored were to stay and repair; stay, remodel, and expand; or relocate and build. After a thorough evaluation, it was determined that to provide the best services and to save costs, the library should move and build. A generous and timely bequest from a visionary community member, Lyn Hoyt - the third female philanthropist in the library's history - laid the foundation for a library of the new millennium.

"We were mindful to go about this the right way by honoring our past, listening to our community members, and looking ahead to the important role a vibrant community library can play," said Board of Trustees president Mike Ryan. "Now, we need to enlist the support of our community in our capital campaign, so that the library can remain relevant for people for the next hundred years."

The current building will be sold, and the proceeds will be used to finalize the landscaping for the new site and grow the endowment. Ryan also said that it was important to those associated with the library that they find a new owner who would re-purpose the building and "be a good steward of its heritage in town."

"I believe if Frances Willing were alive today she would be very keen to see us take whatever steps necessary to provide the best services, in a building that is accessible to all," Bleakie said. "When completed in the fall of 2014, our community library will be in a building better suited to meet the needs of modern-day patrons and poised to be a more vital communal and cultural institution at the heart of our community."


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions